NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The Newark that Cory Booker is leaving behind as the state's newly elected U.S. senator is far more nuanced and complicated than could be captured in the boosterish campaign stump speeches or television sound bites for which the mayor is known.
Newark still bears the scars of the 1967 riots that cleaved it. Poverty and crime are endemic. Lately, however, parts of the city have doggedly improved. Artists, new residents and businesses have moved in. There's a palpable energy downtown. Parks are being overhauled. There's a building boom, from supermarkets to a residential high-rise to mixed-use developments.
But what will happen now? Will the businesses Booker helped attract stay? Will they help alleviate the high jobless rate? Will violence ebb? Will the attention and money lavished on this city during the Booker administration remain? And, most of all: Will Newark achieve the potential that Booker thinks it has?
"The city feels to me that it's at a crossroads," said Clement A. Price, a professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark who is considered the city's historian. "A lot of people worry when Cory pulls out of Newark it will default to its lowest instincts."
When Cory Booker bought property on Newark's Court Street, he had big plans. The mayor paid $175,000 for the attached home; he intended to fix the building up and move in. He even hired an architect.
Four years later, a "no loitering" sign hangs above the entrance and plywood stands in place of windows. A thicket of overgrowth blankets the backyard. Booker donated the property to a charity earlier this year, he said, as a way to give back to Newark.
Robert El lives down the block. He said he doesn't consider Booker to be a good neighbor.
There are those who say that the story of Booker and the house on Court Street parallels the story of Booker and the city he led -- that he made a lot of noise, arrived with good intentions, but in the end did not transform Newark as promised.
El is 80 years old. He remembers a time when he could walk into one of many downtown nightclubs and see Nat King Cole sing, when work was plentiful as a tool- and die-maker and bustling shops were almost everywhere. Now he's stopped taking his morning walks because he's worried about drug dealing and violence.
"It breaks my heart that I was born here and I know what it looked like when I was born and to see it now, it's just disappointing," El said. "I think there's been some improvement but not that much that would make someone who lives in Newark proud."
There are others, though, who say that the improvement is real -- that Booker may not have solved all of a troubled city's troubles since he became mayor in 2006, but he set the stage for a Newark renaissance and is leaving behind a vastly improved city.
When Citi Medina told his family and friends in Brooklyn he was moving his marketing company from New York to Newark, they all thought he was crazy. But Medina said he saw promise in a downtown filled with space and an innovative, creative spirit that comes from people who feel in the vanguard of something big. Five years later, his business has grown and he's opening up a space for entrepreneurs and creative types to work and share ideas.
"I feel a kindred spirit with this city," he said.
It's hard to argue that against the assertion that Newark's downtown has been revitalized. Security officers ride Segways past vendors selling T-shirts and incense. Pounding jackhammers pervade a part of downtown where Prudential Financial Inc. is building a new headquarters. Across the street, dilapidated Military Park is getting a makeover spearheaded by the designer who rehabbed New York City's Bryant Park. A gleaming new park on the Passaic River opened this summer, opening up the long-neglected waterfront.
Restaurants selling homemade hummus and gourmet macaroni and cheese have opened in the past year. Patrons can be heard discussing business deals and tenure track positions at nearby Rutgers University-Newark. A Whole Foods is scheduled to open in 2016. Booker and ex-NBA player Shaquille O'Neal cut the ribbon last month on Newark's first high-rise residential tower in decades.
"Newark is going through its biggest economic boom since the 1950s and '60s," Booker said at a groundbreaking for a supermarket and mixed-use development Thursday. It happened, he said, from a city government working together and people who thought New Jersey's biggest city "should go from a city of reputational challenges to a city of reputational glory."